Saturday 1 October 2016

Mistrust of Bertie Ahern runs deeper than 'dig-outs' and economic collapse

The former Taoiseach was never an 'Everyman', unlike Brian Cowen who used his political capital at Banking Inquiry

Published 12/07/2015 | 02:30

Bertie Ahern
Bertie Ahern

It takes a very particular kind of man to live alone. Bertie Ahern has long since become such a man. He has lived alone since 1992. I have lived alone since 2005, until a few months ago when my son moved in before the Leaving Cert and decided to stay, which has been a joy.

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A few weeks ago, we went for one of our walks along Griffith Avenue in Drumcondra, and for a change, turned into Beresford with the intention of coming out again at Church Avenue. Nothing much turns on this anecdote…

As we entered Beresford, a garda squad car pulled into the enclave and onwards, on its way to Bertie's house to relieve the officer on protection duty. We strolled on, and in due course passed his house, a wooden hut outside for the officer, the gardens neatly kept and everything in place and order.

I got a feeling as I passed - you know the feeling - that there was nobody home. There was no car outside, the bins were put away, no sight, no sound, the blinds pulled down just so. An empty house. Maybe he was away in Abu Dhabi or China or somewhere, or in Woodie's or Fagan's or taking a walk around All Hallows. Who knows? The house around which there has been so much controversy, which Celia Larkin had put so much into, is his to live in now, alone, to come and go as he pleases, when he wants. That is how he has chosen to live, and I can understand that choice. It has its appeal.

Before Brian Cowen appeared to give evidence at the Banking Inquiry, speculation among the media was along the lines of, 'Which Brian Cowen will turn up', as if there were two Brian Cowens, or a Brian Cowen so complex that we did not know what to expect. To my mind there was never any doubt which Brian Cowen would turn up - it would be the man who laid down an early political marker, as he had to; who got slightly bored on occasions, showed his emotional and intellectual intelligence when he had to and who traded on his political integrity when it came to those questions around his interactions with bankers and businessmen. In that regard, Brian Cowen had political capital to burn and, on the whole, he emerged with his integrity certainly leaned on, but still intact.

Bertie Ahern is a different kettle of fish. His appearance before the Banking Inquiry this week is causing unease in Fianna Fail, not because he will say anything particularly unexpected, although he has come across a little embittered lately, but because he will serve as a reminder of the purest essence of the Fianna Fail he led during the Celtic Tiger, an era which has given rise to a conflict still unresolved in people's heads.

In itself, that conflict does not explain the vehemence with which people seem to have turned against Bertie Ahern, unlikely to be resolved by his appearance at the Banking Inquiry. As time goes on, I am starting to doubt whether it will ever be resolved in his lifetime, which would be unfortunate.

To my mind, the mistrust of Bertie Ahern runs far deeper than the Celtic Tiger and economic collapse and its confluence with 'dig-outs' and the Mahon tribunal, events that burned his political capital.

Rather, it touches along the way all of the moments in his eventful and stressful life as we have come to know, parse and analyse it.

Ahern traded on his image as an 'Everyman', the Man United and Dubs supporter, his liking for a pint of Bass, the anorak, the mangled syntax and all of the rest of it. That carefully assembled image came to be tarnished by stories of 'dig-outs' and tinny celebrity.

In truth, Cowen is the real 'Everyman', the husband, father, uncle in a Pringle pullover, who plays golf at weekends, who stands behind the goalposts in O'Connor Park with his genuinely mundane real friends - believe me, I know them. Cowen was a politician more like every ordinary husband, father and family man.

Bertie was never an 'Everyman'. He was a very particular kind of man who chose to live alone. He was convincing as an 'Everyman', but the longer he went on, the more we discovered, the less believable he was and the more cynical we became. In other ways, he was exactly the kind of single-minded politician needed to lead the country for a while. It's doubtful anybody else could have delivered the Good Friday Agreement when he did.

But such an unknown man has no political capital left to trade. The public's fondness for Bertie has soured, because the image of Bertie as presented by the man himself never really existed. I think it was Charlie McCreevy who said he knew Bertie Ahern 25pc and that was 24pc more than anybody else.

That is not to present Bertie Ahern as a complex character over and above the contrariness of a very particular kind of man who can only live with himself. People mistrust such a man. His time will come, though, but not this week, maybe not in his lifetime. He will be in and out of the Banking Inquiry in jig-time and none of us will be any the wiser. Fianna Fail will take a blow though. There is no way around that.

Sunday Independent

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